SPRING HILL — Springstead has won with blowouts and comebacks.
It has won with blocked field goals and shutouts. It has won amassing 80 yards total, and it has won racking up 380. It has won forcing four turnovers, and it has won stealing zero.
Mostly, through two months of the season, Springstead has just won.
“It’s kind of a new philosophy we have around here,” senior offensive lineman Will Allen said.
The results aren’t completely foreign to the Eagles, but a 7-0 start (and 4-0 in district play) is the best in Bill Vonada’s 15 years as head coach. Springstead is 7-0 for the first time since 1996 and, if it can knock off Hernando (4-3, 3-0) on Friday, the Eagles will take sole possession of first place in Class 6A, District 6.
Allen said he had never been on a winning team in his life before this year. Springstead made it to the playoffs two years ago but hasn’t finished above .500 since 2008.
“We have a little bit more (talent) than we’ve had in the past,” Vonada said. “More importantly, we’ve got guys who are working hard to get better.”
The Eagles have two Division-I prospects — Allen and LB Luke McLeod — plus two of Hernando County’s five leading rushers, RB Daniel Wright (527 yards, eight TDs) and QB Tyler Mahla (397 yards, six TDs). Those playmakers helped Springstead rack up almost 400 yards of offense in a 38-0 win over a Fivay team that hasn’t lost since.
But discipline has been as important as talent to the Eagles’ surge. Vonada’s staff has focused on building a turnover-free, hard-working program that won’t overwhelm opponents but won’t beat itself either.
Of the five teams in Class 6A, District 6 with legitimate playoff chances — Springstead, Hernando, Mitchell, Sunlake and Nature Coast — none average fewer yards per play than the Eagles (5.9).
“It’s nice to have all the speed and talent that you can have, but a lot of high school football games are lost rather than won,” Vonada said. “We try not to do that.”
And they haven’t. Springstead has only lost one fumble this fall while throwing four interceptions on 82 attempts.
Even when the Eagles’ offense struggles, the defense has been able to seal victories. Among Tampa Bay teams, only Pasco (seven), Lakewood (nine) and Durant (26) have allowed fewer points than Springstead (42).
In the district opener against Sunlake, Springstead mustered only 72 yards and 13 points. But a big sack by junior defensive lineman Shane Wiggins stuffed a late Seahawks drive, letting the Eagles eke out a 13-7 win.
“The defense came to play,” senior RB/LB Pedro Estrada said.
Last week against River Ridge, Springstead totaled zero points and fewer than 100 yards at halftime and seized momentum on a first-down run by Mahla on a botched field goal. The Eagles gutted out a 21-7 victory.
Although Springstead’s defense has made plenty of big plays — including four forced turnovers against Fivay — the Eagles have stayed perfect thanks to the routine. After falling behind early against Anclote, Springstead seized the game when DB Dylan McLeod held up a Sharks receiver long enough for LB Joe Predoehl to finish the fourth-down tackle.
“We did what we needed to do,” Vonada said. “To me, that’s the biggest thing.”
Allen said the program has adopted a different mentality, helping them rise from seven losses last fall to seven wins this year. The Eagles have found the confidence and team unity that can make the difference in the final minutes of a close game.
And as his teammates converged to close practice this week, Allen reminded them of Springstead’s new identity.
“Let’s focus on the only thing we know how to do,” Allen said in the huddle. “Win.”
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.